Akwaaba African Travel Market 15th edition may have come and gone but the echoes of its remains and one area that generated discussions, which should further engage operators in the tourism sector is that of moving Africa tourism beyond the level that it is today by taking advantage of the various levels of opportunities that its present and confronting headlong the challenges in order to birth a thriving single tourist destination for the continent.
One of the exciting conferences at the yearly travel and tourism trade exhibition was that on Africa – Africa Diaspora Tourism Conference, which focused on: The Year of return: Connecting Africa and its Diaspora; Actions, challenges and the future.
The discussion on this topical issue was led by a panelist, which consisted Alain St. Ange, former minister of Tourism and Culture of Seychelles; Sharon Palacio, chairperson In2Belize Travel and Tours; Dr. Ziblim Barry Iddi (MP) and deputy minister for Tourism, Arts and Culture, Ghana; Ida Jang, director of International Market, The Gambia Tourism Board; Carol I. Hay of Caribbean Tourism Organisation, UK and Fabian Joseph, chairman, Pan African Council; Rozan Ahmen, founder, Africanism as well as Anago Osho of Badagry Tourism, with Ikechi Uko, publisher ATQnews and organiser of Akwaaba, as the moderator.
The first person to open the discussion was St. Ange, with him providing a background to the enormous tourism wealth of the continent and painting a bounteous picture of the benefits from it as he stressed that tourism is the only industry that can put money directly in the pockets of the people regardless of anything else.
‘‘Tourism is the only industry that can put money directly in the pockets of the people. Everybody can benefit from it if Africa decides to put tourism on the front burner,’’ he posited, stressing that ‘‘as Africans we must discover ourselves.’’ In this respect, he stressed the need for Africans to engage more within the continent rather than outside. ‘‘We must visit within Africa, empower ourselves to get better and ensure that our economy gets better.’’
While on The Diaspora and slave trade, which gave birth to it, he admonished that the history must be put into good use. ‘‘It is the rough part of the history of Africa but we must ensure that we use it positively and recognise Africa’s unique tribute and protect it for the future.’’
To this end, he called for a concerted effort to protect, preserve and promote the cultural heritage, both tangible and intangible materials of the continent, insisting on the need for Africans to work towards having many of its cultural materials recognised by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) and inscribed as World Heritage Sites.
Also, St. Ange, who was a former UNWTO secretary general candidate, said: ‘‘Africa has everything to make people rich,’’ however, he expressed sadness that the continent and its people are not doing enough to lift it people out of the poverty line. ‘It is very sad, but we have to find a way to bring the whole of Africa together and if we have more people like Ikechi Uko, doing what he is doing today, we would pull ourselves out of poverty,’’ he said while emphasising on the need to create a unified bond among Africans as that is one of the surest ways of winning and making the continent live to its full potential.
Next to take to the podium was Fabian Joseph of the Pan African Council, who accentuated his delivery with the big figures to show the range of the wealth of the continent and that of The Diaspora as well as shows clearly the opportunities that exist if the right connection is created. For instance, he revealed that by 2050, 25 per cent of the world population will be Africans and that over $65billion businesses are owned by African – Americans.
To get the right angle on it, he advocated among others for changing the perception and image building through branding our narrative and country branding; focusing on youths and social media. Sharon Palacio brought a different energy to the room and perspective to the discourse through her personal exponential narrative of the common history and ancestral that bind Africa and its kindred in The Diaspora.
Drawing on her experience back home in Belize, she declared that there is no much difference between her people and Africans. ‘‘Coming to Nigeria, I feel very much at home. I have been through the world but arriving here in your beautiful country, I see everybody looking like me,’’ she said, therefore, she harped on finding ways to explore and promote the ancestral lineage of the two people so as to enhance the relationships and economy of the people.
On his part, Ziblim Barry Iddi, spoke of the basic necessity of turning Africa’s heritage into business, which according to him, was what informed the celebration of the year of return by the government of Ghana recently. A project that he said drew a lot of attention to the country and brought in tourists, translating into business opportunities for the people and country
. According to him, the year of return means a lot to Ghana and hence it put in place a defined event to celebrate it, stressing that: ‘‘Africa is for Africa and we want all Black people on the earth to realise that Africa is your home and whatever you do you must do it in Africa.
‘‘The 21st century is going to be African’s century and Africa renaissance has just began. Africans must see tourism as something that we can use to leverage on that front. Let’s make sure that we leverage on the year of return and protect our image. ‘‘We have everything, let’s use tourism to create jobs for our people,’’ he admonished.
Rozan Ahmen, who is the founder of Africanism, dwelt on her work of promoting a new narrative about Africa and promoting its cultural heritage to the new world through her creatives, as she described herself as a very creative person. Essentially, she uses the media to pass on her messages as she declared that she believes in the power of the media.
‘‘I believe in the power of the media and I am a creative person and I believe in using every aspect and power of creativity to project my people.’’ For her, Africanism is about rediscovering Africa, and therefore, implored every African to create a platform that will give voice to Africa just in the same manner that Fela Anikulapo Kuti created Afrobeat and Nigeria using its music to create the confederate of Africa just as Ghana has done and is doing with its year of return celebrations.
Speaking further on this score, Ida Jang, drew on the example of The Gambia in the promotion of its Roots Festival, insisting on that: ‘‘We need to reconnect and engage with The Diaspora, the benefits are much and we need to see the benefits of living together and supporting each other, you can’t measure the benefits from it.
Also in looking at the subject and from his perspective as promoter of tourism from Badagry and a direct descendant of The Diaspora, Anago Osho, cautioned on putting out the right history and perspective to elicit positive response from The Diaspora. According to him, interest in visiting the continent by The Diaspora, especially since the introduction of the DNA testing tool, is on the increase and concerted efforts must be made to take advantage of this growing interest to engage with the people and create the right incentives and products that will attract more of them to Africa. He further disclosed that Nigeria, Republic of Benin and other countries along the west coast are reaping some benefits from the year of return programme of Ghana.
In her contributions to the discourse, Carol Hall, spoke of the important role tourism business plays in the Caribbean, and therefore, call for more actions on exploring this angle by dealing with all the drawbacks that affect seamless linkages between Africa and The Diaspora.
‘‘What is most important for me is the business of tourism, tourism is important to the Caribbean as we are one of the most dependent on tourism in the world,’’ she said, adding that: ‘‘Cultural heritage fusion has given us tourism and Caribbean tourism is linked to Africa. According to her, ‘‘we need to tell our stories differently. This is not Disney, we need to tell of the successes and pride of our people and promote our customs and heritage. We want The Diaspora to know each other and visit each other.’’